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Constance Alexander: What we are actually talking about when we talk about race

The other night, the City Council of Murray unanimously passed a resolution recommending to the Calloway County judge-executive that the statue of a Confederate soldier – in the likeness of General Robert E. Lee – be removed from the courthouse property and relocated to an appropriate venue.

In the discussion leading up to the vote, council member Alice Rouse emphasized the difference between removing the piece and destroying it. “This is an honorable decision,” she remarked.

“It’s been a hundred years,” Dr. Terry Strieter said. “It’s still a historic monument, but the courthouse is not the right place for it.”

He also mentioned that fifty-two hundred people in favor of removal commented about the issue on his FaceBook page.

Councilperson Pat Seiber asserted the importance of citizens’ emails and assured the public that their missives are read and appreciated, even when it is impossible to render a personal thanks to each sender.

Dr. Burton Young admitted he was gratified to see the difficult issue of the statue’s removal being discussed in the right way.

“I’m impressed with the comments,” he said, “and I trust we’ll make a good move. I’m proud to recommend its removal.”

The only African American on the council, Danny Hudspeth, declared the memorial’s removal as, “the right thing to do.” Nevertheless, he candidly observed, “This is not a hallelujah moment, but I hope it gives a ray of hope for generations to come.”

After the discussion, a motion was made, seconded, and passed unanimously.

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at constancealexander@twc.com. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

Mayor Bob Rogers commended the council with these words: “This is an example of how decisions should be made. This is a diverse group that respected everyone’s opinions and was able to reach consensus.”

No doubt, this was a proud moment for the Murray City Council, testimony to their ability to wrangle with a controversial issue and reach agreement on a plan of action.

The meeting adjourned at 7:07 p.m., little more than a half-hour after it started. Hours later, however, I found myself reflecting on a comment one Council member made as the question of the statue’s relocation moved toward the unanimous vote.

“There are voices out there that disapprove,” he reminded the group.

The question of moving the statue is now in the lap of County Judge-Executive Kenny Imes and the Fiscal Court. Inevitably, there will be more discussion and perhaps even fiery disagreement, risking clashes that reveal the deep fissures regarding institutionalized racism. While striving for unity and agreement, we must not fear hearing the voices of dissent.

If Murray is indeed “The Friendliest Small Town in America” we can muster the courage to do the right thing, keeping in mind this insightful quote from the National Rural Assembly’s Whitney Kimble Coe, Director of National Programs at the Center for Rural Strategies:

“We can’t control the systemic barriers and disparities that hunt us and haunt us… But we can control our response to these forces. And usually, that means we just keep participating. We keep showing up. At funerals and potlucks. At PTA meetings and choir practice. At football games and city council meetings. We keep checking out library books and performing in community theater productions. We make our plans ‘for here and about here,’ as writer Jo Carson says. And that regular practice of participation is what characterizes our relationships, and that gives us the ability to live and work and worship together in spite of disagreements. It helps us withstand the tangles of partisanship, too. It’s hard to dismiss someone when you expect to see them the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that.”

A copy of the original nomination form for the Calloway County Courthouse and the Confederate Memorial to be listed on the national register is available at npgallery.nps.gov. For information about the National Rural Assembly, go to ruralassembly.org.

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